Fame: Lessons from Paul Feldwick

By Emma Chaplin
27/01/2023

At Drummond Central, we have various approaches to brand challenges and communications. At a time where multiple direct messages are delivered through fragmented media, our role is to take a step back and remind brands that marketing is not just about telling people things.

Part of our brand planning approach at DC is understanding and utilising the impact of things like salience, emotional connection and fame.

Planner Emma Chaplin reflects on teachings from Paul Feldwick, to explore the value of building fame.

For brand growth, aim for fame. 

Creating mental availability

When you walk into a shop searching for tomato ketchup, or do a quick Google search for flights, which brands does your brain conjure up? There’s a reason why we think of one or two brands in particular. They’ve created mental availability in our brains. They easily come to mind when we want or need something in any particular category. 

If something is famous, it sticks in the mind. In a lot of minds actually, and we tend to choose it over other brands. Paul Feldwick, author of Why the Pedlar Sings and The Anatomy of Humbug, gave a series of talks through the APG, telling us why fame is the best way to create mental availability. 

How can we create fame?

Paul led the discussion around the various ways brands and people can become famous. This can be deliberate or by complete accident, through a slow burn or seemingly happen overnight and destined to become tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. But the good sort of fame, the kind that’s sought after, is longer lasting and results in all-important sustained brand building. 

For brands, advertising is the general and obvious route to fame. It has been proven that without consistent advertising, a brand’s sales will shrink over time. Ads can both create and top up a brand’s fame, ensuring it stays top of mind. 

Mental networks – making it appealing 

Paul told us that fame-building creativity requires consistent energy, ingenuity and distinctiveness. His work examines how fame must appeal to the duality of mental and social networks – the way that we process information inside our own brains, and the way that we engage with it as social animals. 

In order to send the mental networks fizzing, a brand must be appealing and memorable. A brand’s key touchpoint, an ad for example, needs to offer us something of interest, something that provides some pleasure. We’re exposed to thousands of ads every day. We mustn’t forget that the vast majority go unnoticed or uncared for. 

There is some old wisdom that says a brand should earn its keep as a guest in the living room of its audience by entertaining us, energising us, and connecting with us on an emotional level, even if that emotion isn’t profound. 

As for the pursuit of ingenuity, well that’s half the fun of working with creatives at DC. 

Mental networks – making it memorable 

Of course if people don’t know it’s you advertising, no matter how ingenious or entertaining, it’s unlikely to have any creative or brand effect.  This is where distinctiveness and memorability can play a part. Whereas novelty and ingenuity should flavour an ad’s storytelling, there must be a through line. That must be the brand. 

Building a stock of distinctive but ownable assets is key to signalling the link to your brand. Research Professor Jenni Romaniuk says that getting the mix just right strengthens a brand in the memory, making it easier to identify and recall at crucial points. 

These distinctive brand assets can take the form of taglines, colours, logos, shapes, styles, sound (like the Autoglass earworm). Or even as ‘fluent devices’ like characters or situations  – Coca Cola’s Christmas trucks or Specsavers’ famous tagline. I don’t even have to spell them out to know that you will be thinking of the same devices. These all act as crucial mental connectors that keep a brand distinctive in the mind. 

Social Networks – getting people to see it and talk about it

To reach a mass audience, fulfilling the definition of fame, you need to broadcast the message. Paul argues paid, owned and earned media have been around since brand advertising began. At its simplest level, media just helps to create ubiquity. Whether it’s a billboard or beer mat, TV ad or social media campaign, if enough people see it, fame is possible. 

But brands don’t just exist in our own heads. Real fame needs its flames fanned by social networks – humans interacting with other humans. While media amplifies the existence of an ad, diffusing it into wider conversation really kicks it up a notch. 

Another key tenet of fame is that it’s better to be talked about (even negatively) than not at all. Being as controversial as BrewDog, as infamous as Trump or as divisive as Marmite highlights the power of social diffusion to its extremes.

A brand is what a brand does

One of Paul’s parting nuggets of wisdom was to remind that fame relies on what brands do, not what they are. A brand can only ever maintain fame through a sustained performance to the public. They must weather the storm of trends, culture shifts and public opinion, through novelty and reinvention. All so that we might think of them from time to time as we mosey down supermarket aisles as we look for condiments.